Winning tip: open-air gallery, Dozza
On a hilltop between Bologna and Imola is Dozza, a handsome village of classic medieval appearance, with an unexpected twist. The entire village is an open-air gallery with around 100 artworks displayed wherever space allows. Murals adorn walls, doors and archways, showcasing a variety of styles by many different artists. Guided tours must be pre-booked but it is always open and accessible to all. Every two years, notable artists are invited to contribute to the collection, keeping it at the cutting edge of modern art. And in the enoteca regionale, more than 800 wines from Emilia-Romagna are available in the beautiful vaulted cellar of the fort. A fine day out.
Ravenna, gem of the Roman Empire
Ravenna sits on the east coast of Emilia-Romagna, about an hour’s drive from Bologna airport. There are eight Unesco heritage sites, mostly honouring the fact that the city was the last capital of the Western Roman empire. While plenty of sixth-century buildings were built in honour of King Theodoric the Great, he was later deemed a heretic – at the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo they replaced the tiles in mosaics in which he features, leaving only his hands. One of the more impressive restaurants is Ca’ de Ven, a 15th-century palace where piadina, the traditional Romagna flatbread, is prepared at a stove by your table.
Cycle the Destra Po
The Destra Po cycleway runs the length of the famous river as it flows through Emilia-Romagna. It’s easy to reach the riverbanks from the wonderful medieval town of Ferrara, from where you can head downstream towards the village of Ro. Just before it, a famous river mill makes a great spot for a picnic: load up on local meats and cheese before you set out. The flat route allows you to soak up the views across the river and out over surrounding plains. Bikes can be hired cheaply in Ferrara.
Foodies’ tour of Bologna
Taste Bologna runs highly rated tours, which are eye-opening and mouthwatering. I recommend the classic Bologna food tour (€85 adults, €40 children). Over an expertly guided half day, the tour takes in the classic specialities of the region, from the morning coffee to superb gelato to finish off. In between, you can see fresh tortellini being prepared, learn to food shop like a local, and enjoy a lunch of regional highlights – accompanied by the balsamic vinegar of Modena and a glass or two of Italian wine.
In the west of the region, fascinating countryside palaces and fortified villages were erected on charming hillsides in the lands once known as Duchy of Parma and Piacenza, which are now just an hour’s drive from Milan. The areas of Castell’Arquato, Vigoleno, Soragna and Bardi, to name just four, boast an incredible culinary richness, from wines (try the red Gutturnio and white Malvasia) to cheese and pork delicacies: crudo di Parma to coppa and salame. The area is the birthplace of Giuseppe Verdi and home to the largest labyrinth in the world – you might catch a concert there.
The ultimate supercar road trip
Move fast and you can fit the holy trinity of supercars into a weekend in Emilia-Romagna. Speed over to Museo Ferrari in Maranello, which traces the rise of the racing car under Enzo Ferrari, then nip across to view some of the most revered cars in the world at Modena’s Museo Enzo Ferrari. You can get behind the wheel of a Ferrari; our teen did the drive of his life in an F1 simulator for €25 (grownups can burn much more cash driving the real thing on a test track at Maranello). The nearby Lamborghini museum in Sant’Agata Bolognese showcases the power of the engine. Save the best till last with a factory tour of the wondrous Pagani, in San Cesario sul Panaro, Modena. You’ll never want to drive your own car again …
Wander Bologna’s porticoes
Bologna has 38km of shady portici (porticoes), so you can wander under shade or shelter to visit its many beautiful churches. My favourite is Santo Stefano, which reminded me of a Russian doll, comprising seven churches built into, and around, each other (it’s also known locally as sette chiese) – they are cool and peaceful after the heat of the city. I also loved the smaller Santa Maria della Vita (Via Clavature), with Niccolò dell’Arca’s beautiful and moving Renaissance sculpture of seven terracotta figures, Lamentation Over the Dead Christ (pictured).
Live like a king and queen for a day
Majestically adorning a hilltop, the Castello di Compiano Hotel (+39 0525 825541, reserve at booking.com) is a beautifully restored medieval castle. We stayed in a fantastic room with a mezzanine and a ceiling that dated back to 1600. The host, Francesca, is warm and friendly and treats you like royalty. The restaurant menu consists of delicacies made by the locals … every dish is to die for. The hotel has three museums, which tell the history of the castle, and the views are breathtaking. At £130 a night we found it a bargain for a weekend living in a fairytale.
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